How To Clean Walls With Paint Or Wallpaper In 5 Easy Steps

A simple guide to one of the most frequently neglected chores in the home.

Here’s a question for you: when was the last time you cleaned your walls? You heard that right: cleaned your walls. If you’re like most folks, it’s probably been a minute. Or perhaps this is the first time you’ve ever even considered that you could–let alone should–clean your walls.

We get it. It’s not that you choose not to, it’s just that, well, it doesn’t really cross your mind. Which, when you stop to consider it, is . . . kind of strange, no? Walls account for a huge amount of surface area in our homes–that’s a lot of space for dust and germs to gather and hang out on. Think about how often your hands accidentally graze your walls. Or about all the dust and pollen that probably reaches them when you keep your windows open on a nice spring day. (Are you reaching for your sponge and spray bottle yet?) Yep. Cleaning your walls periodically is pretty darn important.

The good news is that cleaning your walls–as new as it might be to you–is really straightforward. Regardless of whether you have painted walls or wallpaper, we have an easy-step-by-step guide to help get your walls back in fighting form in no time.

How often should you clean your walls?

While cleaning your walls should definitely be on your spring cleaning checklist, it’s probably not enough to stop there: it should also be incorporated into your more regular cleaning schedule. That doesn’t mean it has to be a weekly thing, but giving your walls a good once over at least several times each year is a really good idea. (The change of seasons is a useful cue to remind you to get scrubbing.) And if you’re sensitive to environmental allergens or tend to keep your windows and doors open (which, no argument here, fresh air is absolutely lovely), you might want to wash your walls a bit more often.

Best products for cleaning your walls

Before you get started, you’re going to want to gather the best tools for the job! Lucky for you, you probably already have all of these lying around the house. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Acetone (or rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover)
  2. Cotton swabs or cotton balls
  3. A vacuum with a soft bristle attachment, microfiber cloth, and/or Swiffer Dusters Heavy Duty Super Extender
  4. A soft sponge or cloth
  5. Warm water
  6. Depending on what kind of walls you have, one (or more) of the following cleaning agents: a. A non-abrasive all-purpose cleaner b. A mild dish soap like Dawn c. A vinegar solution (½ cup vinegar, ¼ cup baking soda, and 1 gallon of warm water)
  7. A Mr. Clean Magic Eraser for particularly tough stains

How to clean painted walls

Okay, you have painted walls. Let’s get cracking!

Whoa Nelly, not so fast. Before cleaning your painted walls, it’s necessary to first determine what kind of paint your walls have on them: latex paint or oil-based paint. Latex and oil-based paint require slightly different cleaning products. And if you use the wrong one, you run the risk of seriously damaging your paint.

So how do you tell the difference between latex and oil-based paint? You can always check the paint can if you still have it. Otherwise, here’s a quick test to figure it out:

  1. Get a cotton ball or cotton swab wet with an acetone-based solvent. If you don’t have plain ol’ acetone, try rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover.
  2. Choose an area of your wall (preferably one that’s a bit out of the way and less noticeable–you’ll see why shortly) and rub the cotton against the surface. Don’t be afraid to put a little elbow grease into it.
  3. Take a look at the cotton. Does it have any color from the wall paint on it? If so, you’ve got latex paint. If there’s no sign of paint on the cotton, you have oil-based paint covering your walls.

You should also take stock of what kind of finish your paint has. The glossier the paint finish, the more scrubbing the walls can handle without the paint rubbing off. If your paint is matte, you should stick to a mild cleaning solution (or even just water) and be extra careful not to scrub too hard or you’ll take the paint right off the walls.

How to clean walls with latex paint

You’ve determined you have latex paint! Now, you’re really ready to clean!

  1. First, dust your walls. Dusting is a necessary first step regardless of whether you have latex paint, oil-based paint, or wallpaper covering your walls. You can use a vacuum with a soft bristle attachment, a microfiber cloth, or Swiffer Dusters Heavy Duty Super Extender, which will help you trap any rogue dust or spiderwebs in those hard-to-reach corners where your walls meet your ceiling.
  1. Next, mix up some warm soapy water using a small amount of non-abrasive, all-purpose cleaner or mild dish soap. If your paint has a more matte finish, consider starting with just warm water, and incorporating (an even smaller amount of) soap if–and only if–water alone doesn’t do the trick.
  2. Do a spot check on a small, out-of-the-way area of your wall to make sure the cleaner you’ve just mixed up isn’t going to do any damage.
  3. If your spot check worked out well, go ahead and wash away all that dirt and grime using your soapy water (or just water) and a soft sponge. If you don’t have an extra sponge handy, a soft cloth or rag will do, as well. No need to get your sponge soaking wet. In fact, doing so risks damaging your paint. Instead, wet your sponge just until it’s damp and gently work your way from top to bottom (moving from top to bottom helps ensure you don’t drip dirty water onto your freshly cleaned wall). Remember, slow and steady wins the race here.
  4. Got tough stains? Tackle them with your Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Simply get the eraser wet and give it a squeeze to get rid of the excess water. Glide it firmly along the mark. After a few firm swipes, the mark should disappear and leave your wall looking refreshed and revived. Keep in mind that stains are definitely easier to get rid of when they’re addressed right away, so keep that eraser handy!

That’s it! Take a step back and admire your handiwork. Those are some swell looking walls, if we do say so ourselves.)

How to clean walls with oil-based paint

If you have oil-based paint, the process is pretty much the same as it is with latex paint. The main difference: with oil-based paint, you can use a stronger cleaning solution on your walls if needed without worrying too much about stripping the paint.

  1. Start by dusting your walls. Again, a vacuum with a soft bristle attachment, microfiber cloth, or that handy Swiffer Duster is the way to go.
  2. Mix a cleaning solution. Assuming your paint has a glossy finish, this can be the same soapy water we recommend for walls covered in latex paint, or you can use something stronger like a vinegar solution (see recipe). Remember, though: if your paint has a matte finish–even if it’s oil based–you’re going to want to stick to something a bit gentler like plain water or possibly heavily diluted soapy water if plain water doesn’t quite get you there.
  3. Spot check! Make sure your cleaning solution isn’t going to wreak havoc on your walls by testing it on a small, discrete spot first. Trust us, if anything goes wrong, you’ll be glad you didn’t just dive right in and go to town on the giant wall center stage in your living room.
  4. Clean as you would above! Remember, top to bottom and avoid getting your sponge too wet–a little bit of water goes a long way.
  5. As with latex paint, use your Mr. Clean Maric Eraser on tough stains.

Dang, you’re getting good at this!

How to clean walls with wallpaper

Wallpaper is definitely a different beast than paint–and if you have wallpaper, you’re going to want to approach the job of cleaning your walls with a decidedly lighter touch than you would with painted walls. Wallpaper is far easier to damage than paint, and scrubbing too hard–or using too abrasive a cleaning product–can damage its color or texture. Moreover, short of putting up new paper (and no one wants to do that–not after all those hours you already spent putting it up the first time!), fixing damaged wallpaper is often next to impossible.

That being said, cleaning walls with wallpaper is entirely doable by following these easy steps (many of which you’ll recognize if you’ve already washed any painted walls in your home):

  1. Dust your walls as you would with painted walls, using a vacuum, microfiber cloth, or Swiffer Dusters Heavy Duty Super Extender.
  2. Check to see if your wallpaper’s manufacturer has any cleaning guidelines (often searchable online). If they’re available, follow them before doing anything more aggressive than dusting.
  3. If your wallpaper doesn’t have readily accessible cleaning guidelines, consider whether you have a washable wallpaper. (Yep, they exist.)
  4. Washable wallpaper can–as its name suggests–probably handle a light cleaning with soapy water. Be extra careful not to get it too wet, though–it is still paper after all!–and try to give it a helping hand by blotting any excess water away as you go. And remember: spot test first!
  5. If you have regular ol’, not-particularly-durable wallpaper: go (really) easy. Instead of getting your whole wall of hand-painted wallpaper wet–and risking an unfixable, rippled mess–focus on tackling the most egregious marks and scuffs with a gentle eraser or a dry cleaning sponge.

Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.

How to prevent your walls from getting dirty

So now you have beautiful, freshly cleaned walls! Some basic preventative measures will help keep them that way as long as possible!

  1. You should really be dusting your walls regularly. Even it’s probably not necessary to give your walls a full scrub-down every couple of weeks, making dusting your walls a part of your regular cleaning schedule is a good idea to help keep some of that dust and grime at bay.
  2. Try to avoid touching your walls–and, if you can, keep furniture a safe distance away. We all have that chair that’s just a few inches too close to the wall–and the scuff mark to prove it.
  3. Keep that Magic Eraser nearby, especially if you have kids who see your walls as a big blank canvas just waiting for their next masterpiece.

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